Issue 13


By Terry A'Hearn, Chief Executive Officer, SEPA

Currently, Scotland is living a three planet lifestyle. This means if everyone in the world lived as we do, we would need three planets to survive. The world population is growing, resources are becoming scarcer and the effects of climate change are starting to be recognised. This is simply unsustainable.

When environment protection agencies (EPAs) were created their primary focus was to tackle gross industrial pollution. SEPA and other EPAs have achieved a significant amount over the past twenty years in helping to clean up rivers, air and land. However, this has been about tackling the side effects of an unsustainable economy and society. At SEPA, we know that there is still work to do to tackle industrial pollution. However, we also want to play our part in helping Scotland prosper in a way that is much more sustainable for the long term. This is about creating an EPA that provides twenty first century innovative regulation.

…… SEPA needs to be an EPA that can deliver twenty first century innovative regulation.

The Scottish Parliament passed a visionary Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act in 2014. This gave SEPA a new statutory purpose with a clear focus on serving the people of Scotland. Our new purpose is, in effect, to protect and improve the environment in ways that, as far as possible, create social and economic success for the people of Scotland. To achieve this SEPA needs to be an EPA that can deliver twenty first century innovative regulation.
So what does twenty first century regulation look like? What we need to do is find ways to work with businesses to help them create social and economic success out of good environmental performance. This is against a backdrop of compliance with environmental regulations being the minimum expected of everyone.

When EPAs were first created, the only real influence on a business’s environmental performance was the government regulator. Now there are a vast array of influences on business’s environmental performance. These include consumer demands, investor demands, competition from other businesses, Non-governmental organisation programmes, supply chain requirements and standards set by industry bodies.

At SEPA we want to do more to recognise this and work with businesses to support them in creating economic and social success out of good environmental performance. This means working more at a sectoral level to understand the pressures and opportunities unique to that sector and working more at a board and business owner level.

One example of this type of collaborative approach at a sectoral level is the work between SEPA and Scotch Whisky distillers, which has helped drive innovation in renewable energy use.

Distillers in Scotland have challenged themselves to reduce energy demand and the use of fossil fuels. The sector is making progress against this and has increased its use of non-fossil fuels from 3% in 2008 to 16% in 2012, with the aim of achieving 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. SEPA is keen to support the sector in this.

Around 80% of the whisky industry’s energy use is to generate heat. There was an opportunity for the industry to use distillers’ materials such as draff(1), pot ale and spent wash (2) that are produced during distilling to generate electricity for heating and other requirements at a distillery and potentially to feed into the national grid. SEPA worked with the whisky industry to support the development of industry-led quality control processes that enabled distillers’ materials to be used for electricity generation as well as the production of, for example, high quality soil conditioners for agricultural use and pot ale syrup for cattle feed. The quality control processes conformed to tight specifications, allowing SEPA to regulate in a proportionate way and encourage innovation. This has given the whisky industry confidence to invest further in renewable energy in pursuance of their sector-wide strategic targets, while ensuring the environment is well protected.

One example of this type of collaborative approach at a sectoral level is the work between SEPA and Scotch Whisky distillers, which has helped drive innovation in renewable energy use.

An example of this is innovative investment is a £50m, 7.2MWe biomass combined heat and power plant built (Helius CoRDe Ltd, now Rothes CoRDe Ltd). This was the first time that a biomass power station capable of utilising wet biomass had been built and it also sourced all its fuel locally. The power station is fuelled by 130,000 tonnes wet draff received each year from the local CoRD distilleries, as well as being supplemented by locally sourced, sustainable woodchip. It produces enough electricity, to support itself and to supply electricity to the national grid for over 7600 homes. This takes care of a significant proportion of the power requirements of Elgin! Additionally, a new evaporator plant on the site also processes pot ale making highly sought after pot-ale syrup, a component of high-grade cattle feed.

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association said “Helius CoRDe is a ground breaking venture and a prime example of working in collaboration with local industry to secure sustainability. It will benefit the environment and farmers who can access its animal feed for their livestock. It is another step on the way to the Scotch Whisky industry meeting the ambitious targets laid out in its Environmental Strategy - the first industry-wide strategy of its kind in Scotland (3).”

This strong collaborative working between SEPA and industry can provide win-win solutions. Helping Scottish businesses become more sustainable, efficient, profitable and competitive; whilst ensuring high standards of environmental care and protection. The Scotch Whisky industry environmental credentials enhances the reputation of their world-renowned quality Scotch.

As demonstrated by the Scotch Whisky partnership SEPA is committed to delivering its new statutory purpose. Using twenty first century regulation SEPA will help create a more prosperous Scotland, for the people of Scotland.


  1. Residue of husks after fermentation of the grain used in brewing
  2. Liquid co-products of 1st and 2nd distillations

By Terry A'Hearn, Chief Executive Officer, SEPA

Issue 13


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